Dozens of people die as intense heat grips Mecca during the Hajj pilgrimage

Dozens of people have died amid scorching temperatures during the annual Hajj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, according to official media reports in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

With temperatures forecast to reach 113 degrees Fahrenheit, or 45 degrees Celsius, on Tuesday, Saudi officials issued warnings to pilgrims urging them to stay hydrated, minimize outdoor activities and carry umbrellas to block direct sunlight.

While Saudi Arabia reported no deaths, reports from a number of countries whose worshipers went to the hajj suggest the heat proved deadly.

On Sunday, Jordan's official news agency said 14 pilgrims had died due to exposure to extreme sun and heat. The agency said on Wednesday that burial permits had been issued for 41 Jordanian pilgrims in Mecca, but provided no details on the causes of death.

Tunisia's Foreign Ministry said at least 35 Tunisians had died, the state-run Agence Tunis Afrique Presse reported on Tuesday, highlighting the “sharp rise in temperatures” and “scorching sun” that accompanied the hajj.

Russian state news agency TASS reported the deaths of four citizens from “natural causes related to health and age.” Three Senegalese pilgrims also died, according to a statement from the country's Foreign Ministry, without specifying the cause of death.

And Egypt's Foreign Ministry said consular staff in Saudi Arabia were working “around the clock” to facilitate burials and searches for missing Egyptian pilgrims, without giving a number.

Saudi ministries did not immediately respond to questions about the reports of deaths.

Every year Muslims travel to Mecca from around the world to make the five-day pilgrimage, which ends on Wednesday. The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and all Muslims who are financially and physically able must perform the ritual at least once in their lives.

The first hajj took place in 632. The pilgrimage is today one of the largest Muslim gatherings in the world. Over the years, it has been plagued by a variety of calamities, from stampedes to fires to epidemics. A bridge stampede in 2006 killed more than 300 people and another in 2015 killed more than 2,200 people.

Many pilgrims, often elderly, have also experienced heat stress in recent years, with dozens of people dying from the heat.

On Tuesday, Saudi officials called this year's pilgrimage season a “success,” and state media reported that Health Minister Fahd al-Jalajel expressed “particular satisfaction that there were no epidemics or other threats to public health, despite significant numbers of people. pilgrims and the challenges posed by high temperatures.”

Authorities also cited “advanced cooling systems” and “constant availability” of water for pilgrims to ensure a “smooth and safe Hajj for all.”

Hwaida Saad contributed to the reporting.

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